Maira Colín: 17 August 2018


Maira tells me she realized how it has become almost inhuman not to make noise: “We have become these noisy city animals; we think that if there’s silence, something’s going to happen, something bad! Why can’t we just remain silent without developing this ominous feeling that something bad is going to happen? I believe at least part of it has to do with the multiplicity of activities we are used to doing all at the same time when we live in the city.” This particular point reminds me that the fists up was a gesture that developed only in Mexico City, not in the smaller towns affected by the earthquake, where the damage was also considerable, and not even in Cuernavaca, a small city, where a few tall buildings collapsed downtown but the levels of noise are generally lower. 

Maira recalls in relation to the efforts to remain silent: “I remember when we saw the fists in the air, and we had to stop all activities and be as quiet as possible; the silence was a reminder of our bodily condition, of how tired we were. You have to stay quiet, but your legs hurt a lot, and you have to switch position. Your arms are tired, and you have to put the bucket on the floor without making noise and raise your fists in the air so that the silence propagates, or you’re moaning because your back hurts. Yes, there was tension in the air about finding life, but I feel a lot of the tension was a response to our terrible physical conditions, our bodies resisting the demand to be quiet and motionless. It may sound like a cliché, but you realize how much we have separated our body from our mind: you would think it would be very easy – “oh, of course I can remain silent if I see a silence gesture; I know it’s important” – but you can’t, because your body is not used to it. Regarding the multiplicity of activities, it also showed us how difficult it was to engage fully in one simple thing, telling yourself: your job for the next three hours is going to be standing in a line and passing an empty bucket. And no, you’re not going to pass the full buckets, because they belong to a different line; and no, you’re not going to do anything else, because the bucket will fall to the ground if you’re not paying attention; and no, you cannot answer your phone or dry your sweat from your forehead when they’re throwing the bucket in your direction, because you’ll drop it … a very simple activity, and we can’t do it! I suspect people in the Middle Ages would have been able to do it better than us.”

Just as other witnesses, Maira tells me that a basic problem with the gesture for silence was that it took days for people to really get it, to internalize it, to immediately react in a kinesthetic relationship to it. As it became part of the official “vocabulary” of the ground zeros, people reacted faster to it, creating those waves of fists and silence moving quickly across the space.